New dimensions in women’s rights and equality | Daily News


New dimensions in women’s rights and equality

Thousands of books have been written about the woes women have faced through the centuries. Many arguments have been put forward in those books running into hundreds of pages. Authors, men and women have struggled to explain what exactly it is, that is holding women back? They have struggled to explain what exactly it is that is working against women? What is sabotaging their chances? All these books and pages can be summarized in one word – Misogyny. It is the fatal vision that some men suffer from. Misandry is of course the extreme opposite. The fatal vision that some women suffer from.

“Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling as to sight? or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?”

- William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Of course, since Women Day was held on March 8, let us for now focus on Misogyny, but let us not ignore the truth that sometimes Misogyny is caused by Misandry. Reliable sources tell us that Misogyny is the hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against women or girls. Misogyny manifests in numerous ways, including social exclusion, sex discrimination, hostility, androcentrism, patriarchy, male privilege, belittling of women, disenfranchisement of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification. A misogynist can be anywhere. In the workplace, in a school or in any organisation. Their smiles may conceal their desire to sacrifice the woman.

Discrimination against women

On March 5, a panel of bold women at the SLBC got together and held a discussion on “Realizing Women’s Rights and Strengthening Equality”. There they aired their grievances concerning discrimination women suffer in Sri Lankan society.

Professor of Law at Peradeniya University and chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Deepika Udagama pointed out that the media can play a huge role when it comes to empowering women and this is one reason that the SLBC was chosen as the venue for the discussion. If we need to create a change in society then the participation of the media is essential. She stated that Women’s Day has become a global movement, a day that is now celebrated throughout the world. She pointed out that in the eyes of the law, men and women are equal. The law clearly states that there must be no discrimination.

“But the reality in society is that there is inequality. However due to certain forces in the world women are perceived as second -class citizen. This is where the problem comes up. In theory women are equal but in practice it is the opposite. If you take the educational sector, classrooms in Universities are full of women. In the health sector the life expectancy of the female exceeds that of the men. Even in our population females are the majority. Also, in Sri Lanka there have been women who have held top positions and currently there are women holding top positions. There is no doubt that many women in Sri Lanka are educated and highly intelligent.

But if you take the pyramid system, there are a very high percentage of women are the very bottom but as you go up the pyramid you find the numbers decreasing. Even in the parliament there are very few women holding seats. I think this is common to every field in Sri Lanka. If you take the economy in Sri Lanka, so much income comes into the country through the maids who work in the Middle East. Even though they face a lot of challenges in life their contribution is very high. We know that in the workplace, in many organisations, some women are subjected to abuse. This is despite their qualifications. They are victimized. The solution here is to make the women strong and resilient. This can be done through education. Both men and women must be taught at a very young age to respect each other. They need to be taught to honor each other. It is not enough for them to pass exams. They must be instilled with proper values,” explained Professor Udagama.

Senior Lecturer University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Department of Political Science, Professor Visakha Suriyabandara, pointed out that raising a voice for women everywhere is of paramount importance yet, year after year we celebrate the Day for Women yet still women all over the world face these common problems.

“We are all political animals. Without a political system a country cannot function. This involves the wielding of power. Power brings security. Most often in societies in the world power is the domain of men. This is the reality. This is the way the system is created and this is the way the system works. At least from this year onwards let us try and make a difference. Let us try to bring a balance. Women are the majority when it comes to the populace in Sri Lankan society. Women are educated and capable, yet get fewer opportunities. As Madam Udagama pointed out there are highly educated women in Sri Lankan society. In our Universities classes are filled with women. But we need female policy makers in society. This is what we lack in society. Women need to empower themselves. I think the political sphere is where we need to start. In the world when it comes to female participation in politics, Sri Lanka’s position is deplorable,” said Suriyabandara.

Female empowerment

She further pointed out that female empowerment begins from kindergarten - at the most basic level. Suriyabandara laments that from a very young age, the female child is taught that she is the subordinate of the male. That she is lesser in importance when compared to the male child. This attitude needs to change. The girls need to be taught that a woman deserves a higher place in society. The attitude that women are inferior is one reason why there is such little participation of women in politics. Women are not incapable and women are not weak and soft, argues Suriyabandara. Women have the potential to become decision makers. There needs to be a greater representation in parliament when it comes to women. This is the reality and the truth in society. Today in society the woman is belittled. This needs to change. If there is no change in society the woman will not experience the freedom she should be entitled to. Suriyabandara insists that society needs an awakening.

Attorney-at-Law Radika Gunaratne, pointed out that as a lawyer she has come across so many heartbreaking tales of women who have been let down by society.

“I have heard so many tales of women who have had such great misfortune. The death certificate of a woman details how she died but it never says why she died. Some of these women are mothers who have committed suicide. Sometimes the reason for the death might be because she was in great debt. We live in a country that reveres motherhood. The other reasons might be harassment at home, falling into debt, sexual harassment, harassment at the workplace or being chased out of their homes. None of this is recorded in the death certificate. In my experience falling into debt is a problem faced by so many women,” said Gunaratne.

Women Activist, Velayudan Jayachithra, pointed out that women face immense hardships in society. They multitask handling household chores, cook and look after the children. There is no shame managing the household. But sometimes they are discouraged from pursuing their ambitions. Therein lies the problem. Despite their immense potential we see that women are most often confined to the kitchen and told their only use is to manage the household affairs. For some women it is not a choice of their own.

“I feel that women are undervalued. I feel their true potential is not being realized. Very often their lifestyle is not of their own choice. They can be such huge assets when it comes to our economy. When it comes to the labour force their participation can make a huge difference. Females are a segment of the population that face many challenges in life and they are very strong. It is very important to raise a voice for women. Women need to be appreciated and recognized as individuals who can make a contribution. Women also need to raise their voice against any injustice that is committed against another woman. We have many women’s organisations in Sri Lanka who fight for women’s rights, but who face opposition. So, we as women need to be more active, and we need to be motivated,” said Jayachithra.

Gender norms

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Kelaniya, Sanjeewani Rupasinghe, said that the problem that women face has a lot to do with our culture. Rupasinghe again pointed out an issue that was raised in the discussion- gender norms. Rupasinghe paints a picture of the male seen relaxing in his chair reading the paper, very much like a lion, basking in his role as patriarch while the woman scurries around the kitchen.

“Is Women’s Day only for the Colombo ladies? How can we correct this picture? Is feminism only for Westernized Colombo females? How do we empower women from other backgrounds? Equality is for all- men and women both. I feel that religion is interpreted in a way this is anti-feminist, although the intent of religion is not anti-feminist. There is so much misinformation and falsities uttered on the subject of women and religion. Be careful of this. What I say is -If you do not know something, then do not speak of it. There is so much rubbish out there. It all starts at home. We need to educate our children so they will be aware of these lies. Mothers are not long suffering and passive individuals. Such thinking is an insult to all mothers. My own son helps me by washing the plates before I come home. I have not told him to do this.

He does it because he thinks of me. These are the values I have instilled in him. Because of these notions that women are subservient to men, women are suffering. Women are taught to endure the infidelities of men and serve their men. This is outrageous. But woman’s biggest enemy is her own sex/ gender. She is told by older women that she needs to be subservient to men. What I say might hurt you, but I have to say it! Men finally need to respect women,” explained Rupasinghe.


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